After GI illness outbreak at Fairfax Co. elementary school, health officials urge vigilance

The health department in Fairfax County, Virginia, is urging students and parents to remain vigilant and stay home when sick in the aftermath of what it’s calling a gastrointestinal illness outbreak at an elementary school last month.

In a Nov. 15 email to the Fairfax County School Board, obtained by WTOP via a Freedom of Information Act request, Superintendent Michelle Reid said an increase in GI illnesses was first reported at Keene Mill Elementary Nov. 4.

At the time, the school sent a letter to the school community detailing the increase in illnesses and providing recommendations for families. The county’s health department also recommended bleach cleaning in parts of the school where vomiting occurred, and after incidents of “public vomiting” on Nov. 7 and Nov. 10, the county classified the spread of illness as a GI outbreak.

The exact number of students who fell ill is unclear, though a health department spokeswoman said it’s fewer than two dozen. The department didn’t collect specimens, but suspects norovirus “based on reported symptoms, symptom onset and illness duration.”

Investigations, the spokeswoman said, usually include sample testing, instructions for how to clean facilities, sending a letter to families and providing guidance on how to handle an outbreak.

In the case of Keene Mill, the outbreak was declared “over” on Nov. 28.

The health department is reminding parents to keep kids home from school or child care for at least 24 hours after the most recent GI episode, and urging kids to wash their hands properly and cover coughs and sneezes.

The outbreak comes as cooler weather has many people spending more time indoors. The health department said the spike in illness in congregate settings, such as schools, is common this time of year.

In October, about 1,000 kids were absent at Stafford High School due to flu-like GI symptoms, and parents across the D.C. region have reported a spike in respiratory illnesses in recent weeks.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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